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Do You Have Godly Motives?

The curse of sin is horrible for so many reasons (just to state the obvious), but one of the worst aspects of sin is how it affects our hearts, desires, and motives. What a beautiful day it will be when we can do life on the New Earth with pure motives and godly desires, and no internal battle with sin.  We will love and serve God with a 100% pure heart.  Personally, I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to fight to think right, feel right, and do right (all at the same time!)

But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, we battle all sorts of inner ugliness. And sadly, this selfishness can creep into even our godliest of actions.

Biblical Examples 

Bad motives are not merely a 21st century problem — ugly hearts have been around since Bible times (well, earlier actually). Here are 3 quick examples recorded in Scripture:

The Contemporaries of Paul:

During the ministry of Paul, there were preachers trying to outdo Paul while he was in prison — Philippians 1 says they even started preaching about Christ out of selfish ambition: 

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. Philippians 1:15-17

Who would think selfishness would be the motive behind proclaiming the gospel?! And yet, it was. 

The Religious Leaders

No doubt you remember the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who were making a name for themselves by showing off their supposed godliness:

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. Matthew 23:5-7

In that day, “broad phylacteries” and “long fringes” were outward displays of supposed “godliness” — and the religious leaders were all about showing off. They wanted the titles, they wanted the honor–basically they wanted the glory. 

The Corinthians

The Corinthians had plenty of issues (as do we). But they do get credit for caring about spiritual matters. For example, they very much appreciated their spiritual leader. However, this appreciation led to arguing over which leader was the best. In so doing, they showed the ugliness of their hearts: 

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Corinthians 3:3-4

In other words, these people are Christians (a few verses earlier he called them “brothers”), but they are not acting like it. The ugliness of their hearts is shown as they start competing against each other. They were trying to one-up each other!

Diagnose Your Heart

It’s safe to say, we are probably no different than the contemporaries of Paul, the religious leaders, and the Corinthians. At least in the sense that we have plenty of ugliness in our hearts too. In all likelihood, we care far too much about looking “godly” in front of others, we probably seek to one-up the people around us at times, and we usually want to be better than whoever our closest “contemporary” is (whoever gets close to being better than us in whatever we care about). All in all, selfish motives can sneak into out hearts in just about anything.

So what are we to do? Here’s a few ideas that came to my mind when I recently studied this topic: 

First, we ought to to be on the lookout for this ugliness (Psalm 139:23-24). If we think we are immune to bad motives, then we are fooling ourselves. Lord willing, you’ve  already worked out some sinful motivations during your years of sanctification, but until you are sinless, expect them to still sneak in. The point is, when we are more quickly aware of bad motives, we can more quickly deal with them.

Second, we need to pray about our hearts. With awareness of possible hidden sin, we need to ask God to create a clean heart within us (Psalm 51:10). It’s probably worth it to daily ask God to help us with our motives.

Third, we need to go to God’s word (Psalm 119:9). We need to figure out when and how our heart is drawn to selfishness, and find where God’s word addresses that specific issue. Those passages are ones we should read, study, memorize and live by. 

Fourth, we need to figure out how to battle our thoughts. With God’s word as our guide, we should replace selfish thoughts with godly ones. When we begin to think of our own wants, we need to remind ourselves of the right reasons to serve and love others. When we begin to make ministry about ourselves, we need to remember it’s about God. We need to retrain our minds to focus outward instead of inward (Philippians 2:3-6)

And lastly, we might need some accountability (James 5:16). There is nothing like exposing the hidden sins of the heart to someone who cares about your holiness! Invite a friend to check in on you and make sure you are truly fighting your sin. Just having someone else know your battles, makes you want to battle harder. 

There’s Hope!

Ultimately our aim should be to do nothing from selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3), and we can work to do this with Christ as our example. He came not to be served, but to serve. He looked to the interest of others in all that he did. We can and should follow Jesus in this way. 

Will we ever have perfect hearts? Yes… but not until eternity. Until then, it is our job to look as much like Christ as possible. And God wants to help us with that. 

So let’s battle our selfish motives — and with God’s help, we can make progress. We won’t get to the point of having 100% pure hearts, but day by day, and year by year, we can please God better by doing the right things for the right reasons more and more!

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